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A Contemplative Look at Social Change: Awareness and Community as Foundations for Leading

Lisa Napora


We are part of an awareness-based movement that seeks to re-envision higher education for a more just, compassionate, inclusive society. Movements by their very nature are the result of community building efforts. However, the significance of this work is often unrecognized and devalued in our individualistic culture. This article argues that the power of awareness and the power of community are essential ingredients in the recipe for change. The paper explores how contemplative practices were utilized to build and sustain a contemplative community in Western New York that has grown from one university setting, to an inter-institutional collaborative, to a cross-sector (higher education, K-12, and health care) regional initiative over the past four years. The principles, practices, and prototypes that have supported our successes, as well as lessons learned in our ongoing process are discussed. The article shares the bridging and framing methods we used to garner institutional acceptance, as well as four foundational approaches we found essential to building community. Prototypes for collaborative structures to support and sustain movement building are also shared, in addition to how we transcended inherited structures that impede collaboration. As stewards of our future, the article offers a call to the field to take action with unprecedented daring in the movement to transform higher education.


social change; community building; awareness; contemplative leadership; collective leadership; contemplative practice; mindfulness; transformation

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